There are surprising alternatives to traditional fuel vehicles. Even EVs have some competition when it comes to sustainable alternative ways of powering vehicles. So why haven’t you heard of many of them? Well, some are pretty strange. With the rise of EVs also came a burst of research into alternative fuels, and some never made it off the ground. Here are some of the top surprising alternatives to fuel-alternative cars and why you might (or might not) want to try them.

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Biofuel cars

Biodiesel is an interesting alternative fuel because it can be made out of many different source materials. You may have heard of ethanol, a biofuel made of corn turned into something very similar to gasoline. Manufacturers such as General Motors briefly made ethanol flex-fuel vehicles as an alternative to expensive gasoline in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Why didn’t it stick? Well, ethanol was criticized for raising food prices. When a biofuel is made from a food crop, it can cause problems in the food supply chain.

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The other challenge with biofuels is that even if you are able to create biofuel out of a waste source, you are still burning fuel that adds emissions to the atmosphere. You don’t want to create a fuel out of a sustainable source and then offset the benefits by pumping greenhouse gases back in the atmosphere.

Hydrogen atoms in a blue background

Hydrogen fuel cell cars

Hydrogen fuel cell cars also have existed for a few decades now, on the fringes of normal combustion engine vehicles on the market. Audi, BMW and now Hyundai is coming out with an inexpensive version. The benefit of hydrogen is that there are no bad emissions. Hydrogen fuel is simply made from combining hydrogen with natural gas, but the only emissions making it out the tailpipe of your car is pure water. We’re not kidding.

Sound too good to be true? The first downside is cost. The second is infrastructure. Like EVs, hydrogen fuel cell cars have to be fueled on the road, so you need fueling stations, which are hard to come by. Hydrogen fuel cell cars also pump gas into a tank that is pressurized, so there is a greater risk of fire on collision. Nevertheless, this persistent alternative fuel option is still riding alongside EVs as a reasonable alternative to gas or electric cars.

What about alternatives to alternative fuels?

So there’s also propane, natural gas, methanol… the list goes on and on. You can make biofuels out of all sorts of materials and, in the same manner, all kinds of types of gas can be made into fuel as well. The problem with most of these ideas is cost and emissions. Propane is 21 times worse for climate change than regular gasoline, and the world can’t afford that right now.

There are even more options out there, including household waste, beer or even coffee. The most important hurdles for other alternative fuels is logistics and cost: the holy grail of alternative fuels is to find a cheap or free source of renewable fuel that then powers clean vehicles without releasing emissions. It’s possible that a combination of the ideas above will produce a viable option. For example, if landfill waste or ocean plastics can be turned into a viable fuel alternative with minimal processing in a way that sequesters carbon and methane from entering the atmosphere, all that remains to be solved is cost.

The answer to the problem of cost is usually just research and time. While there is a race on to find fuel alternatives for a sustainable future, many automakers hold back a bit to make sure they bring a product to market when people are ready to buy it. The first to market is often an experimental offering that isn’t widely adopted, putting the company out of business. Everyone wants to solve climate change, but they also need to do so in a way that is sustainable for their company to continue to exist into the future.

It’s a delicate balance, but we’re glad there are so many choices. Future generations may look back at us and ask why we struggled so much to solve climate change when the answer was lying around us being thrown away as trash.

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